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Van Jones Jones in 2016Born Anthony Kapel Jones
Anthony Kapel Jones (born September 20, 1968) is an American news commentator, author, and non-practicing attorney. He is a co-founder of several nonprofit organizations, including the Dream Corps, a "social justice accelerator" that operates three advocacy initiatives: #cut50, #Yeswecode and Green for All. He is the author of The Green Collar Economy and Rebuild the Dream, both ranking as New York Times bestselling books. He is a regular CNN contributor and host of The Van Jones Show.
He served as President Barack Obama's Special Advisor for Green Jobs, as a distinguished visiting fellow at Princeton University, and as a co-host of CNN's political debate show Crossfire. He is president of the Dream Corps and is among activists featured in 13th, a 2016 documentary directed by Ava DuVernay about the US justice system and factors that have resulted in the over-incarceration of minorities and the highest incarceration rate in the world.
In 2004, Jones was recognized as a "Young Global Leader" by the World Economic Forum. Fast Company ranked Jones as one of the "12 Most Creative Minds in 2008". In 2009, Time magazine named Jones as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. In 2010, he received the NAACP President's award.Contents
Anthony Kapel Jones and his twin sister Angela were born in 1968 in Jackson, Tennessee, about 90 miles east of Memphis. Their mother, Loretta Jean (née Kirkendoll), was a high school teacher, and their father, Willie Anthony Jones, was a principal at a middle school. Jones' sister said that as a child, Anthony was "the stereotypical geek—he just kind of lived up in his head a lot". Jones has said as a child he was "bookish and bizarre". His grandfather was a leader in the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, and Jones sometimes accompanied him to religious conferences. He would sit all day listening to the adults "in these hot, sweaty black churches".
Jones was born after the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy, but as he learned about the men's work, he became devoted to them as heroic figures. He pinned photographs of the Kennedy brothers to a bulletin board in his room in the specially delineated "Kennedy Section". As a child he matched his Star Wars action figures with Kennedy-era political figures; Luke Skywalker was John, Han Solo was Bobby, and Lando Calrissian was Martin Luther King, Jr.
Jones was educated at Jackson Central-Merry High School, a public high school in his hometown; he graduated in 1986. Jones received his B.S. in communication and political science from the University of Tennessee at Martin (UT Martin). During this period, Jones also worked as an intern at the Jackson Sun (Tennessee), the Shreveport Times (Louisiana), and the Associated Press (Nashville bureau). He adopted the nickname "Van" when he was 17 and working at the Jackson Sun. At UT Martin, Jones helped to launch and lead a number of independent, campus-based publications. They included the Fourteenth Circle (University of Tennessee), the Periscope (Vanderbilt University), the New Alliance Project (statewide in Tennessee), and the Third Eye (Nashville's African-American community). Jones later credited UT Martin for preparing him for a larger life.
Deciding against journalism, Jones moved to Connecticut to attend Yale Law School. In 1992, while still a law student at Yale, he was among several law students selected by the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights, based in San Francisco, to serve as legal observers in the trial of four officers charged with attacking Rodney King. King had been beaten by police officers in an incident caught on camera. Three of the officers were acquitted and the jury deadlocked on the verdict of the fourth man. Jones participated with many others in protesting the verdicts. He and others were arrested, but the district attorney later dropped the charges against Jones.
The arrested protesters, including Jones, won a small legal settlement. Jones later said that "the incident deepened my disaffection with the system and accelerated my political radicalization". Jones was deeply affected by the trial and verdict. In an October 2005 interview years later, Jones said he had been "a rowdy nationalist on April 28th" before the King verdict was announced, but that by August 1992 he had become a communist.
His activism was also spurred by seeing the deep racial inequality in New Haven, Connecticut, particularly in prosecution of drug use: "I was seeing kids at Yale do drugs and talk about it openly, and have nothing happen to them or, if anything, get sent to rehab...And then I was seeing kids three blocks away, in the housing projects, doing the same drugs, in smaller amounts, go to prison.".
After graduating from law school with his J.D. degree in 1993, Jones moved to San Francisco and became what he described as a revolutionary. He became affiliated with many radical left activists, for a brief time joining a "socialist collective" called Standing Together to Organize a Revolutionary Movement (STORM). It protested against police brutality, held study groups on the theories of Marx and Lenin, and aspired to a multi-racial socialist utopia.Career Ella Baker Center for Human Rights
Jones was affiliated with the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights, which had brought him to the city as a legal observer in 1992. In 1995, Jones initiated their project of Bay Area PoliceWatch, the region's only bar-certified hotline and lawyer-referral service for victims of police abuse. The hotline started receiving fifteen calls a day.
Jones described the development of the project:
We designed a computer database, the first of its kind in the country, that allows us to track problem officers, problem precincts, problem practices, so at the click of a mouse we can now identify trouble spots and troublemakers", said Jones. "This has given us a tremendous advantage in trying to understand the scope and scale of the problem. Now, obviously, just because somebody calls and says, 'Officer so-and-so did something to me,' doesn't mean it actually happened, but if you get two, four, six phone calls about the same officer, then you begin to see a pattern. It gives you a chance to try and take affirmative steps.
By 1996, Jones founded a new umbrella NGO, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. He operated out of "a closet-like office" within the space of Eva Paterson, Executive Director of the Lawyers' Committee, and used his personal computer.
In 1996–1997, Jones and PoliceWatch led a campaign to gain the firing of officer Marc Andaya from the San Francisco Police Department. Andaya was accused of excessive force in the in-custody death in 1995 of Aaron Williams, an unarmed black man who fought on the street with several officers. There was community outrage about his death and pressure on the department to bring justice against Andaya, who witnesses saw kick Williams in the head. In the year after the incident, the press reported that Andaya had a record of incidents of misconduct in the 1980s. The San Francisco Chronicle reported in addition that Andaya was named in 10 complaints between 1983 and 1993, eight of them allegedly for misuse of physical force, when he was a policeman with the Oakland Police Department. Investigation revealed more brutality complaints in Oakland and two lawsuits against him; the San Francisco Police Commission voted to fire Andaya in June 1997 for falsifying his application to the department.
In 1999 and 2000, Jones led a campaign to defeat Proposition 21, which would increase "penalties for a variety of violent crimes and required more juvenile offenders to be tried as adults." He worked to mobilize a student protest movement against the proposition; this effort made national headlines, but it ultimately imploded. He began to work for more solidarity and building broader alliances across politics and class to achieve goals.
The proposition was passed by voters, part of a nationwide wave of states' increasing punishments for crimes. This has led to increasingly high rates of incarceration in the United States, especially of minorities. In 2001, Jones and the Ella Baker Center launched the "Books Not Bars" campaign. From 2001 to 2003, he led an effort to block the construction of a proposed "Super-Jail for Youth" in Oakland's Alameda County. Books Not Bars later launched a statewide campaign to transform California's juvenile justice system.Color of Change
Following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Jones and James Rucker co-founded a Web-based grassroots organization to address Black issues, called Color of Change. Color of Change's mission, as described on its website, is as follows: "ColorOfChange.org exists to strengthen Black America's political voice. Our goal is to empower our members—Black Americans and our allies—to make government more responsive to the concerns of Black Americans and to bring about positive political and social change for everyone." Jones amicably parted ways with Color of Change within two years after founding the group.Shift to environmentalism
By 2005, Jones had begun promoting eco-capitalism and environmental justice. In 2005 the Ella Baker Center expanded its vision beyond the immediate concerns of policing, declaring that "If we really wanted to help our communities escape the cycle of incarceration, we had to start focusing on job, wealth and health creation." In 2005, Jones and the Ella Baker Center produced the "Social Equity Track" for the United Nations' World Environment Day celebration, held that year in San Francisco. It was the official beginning of what would eventually become Ella Baker Center's Green-Collar Jobs Campaign.
The Green-Collar Jobs Campaign was Jones' first effort to combine his goals of improving racial and economic equality with mitigating environmental damage. He worked to establish the nation's first "Green Jobs Corps" in Oakland. On October 20, 2008, the City of Oakland formally launched the Oakland Green Jobs Corps, a public-private partnership to "provide local Oakland residents with job training, support, and work experience so that they can independently pursue careers in the new energy economy."Green for All
In September 2007, Jones attended the Clinton Global Initiative and announced his plans to launch Green for All, a new national NGO dedicated to creating green pathways out of poverty in America. The plan grew out of his earlier work with the Ella Baker Center. Green for All was intended to make a national program out of the Green-Collar Jobs mission – creating green pathways out of poverty.
Green for All formally opened its doors on January 1, 2008. In its first year, Green for All organized "The Dream Reborn", the first national green conference in which the majority of attendees were people of color. With 1Sky and the We Campaign, it co-hosted a national day of action for the new economy called "Green Jobs Now". It launched the Green-Collar Cities Program to help cities build local green economies and started the Green for All Capital Access Program to assist green entrepreneurs. As part of the Clean Energy Corps Working Group, it launched a campaign for a Clean Energy Corps initiative which would create 600,000 'green-collar' jobs while retrofitting and upgrading more than 15 million American buildings.
In reflecting on Green for All's first year, Jones wrote, "One year later, Green for All is real – and we have helped put green collar jobs on the map... We have a long way to go. But today we have a strong organization to help get us there."
Jones advocates a combination of conservation, regulation and investment as a way of encouraging environmental justice and opposing environmental racism. In an interview for the "EON Deep Democracy Interview Series", Jones spoke of a "third wave of environmentalism":
The first wave is sort of the Teddy Roosevelt, conservation era which had its day and then, in 1963, Rachel Carson writes a book, Silent Spring, and she's talking about toxics and the environment, and that really kind of opens up a whole new wave. So it's no longer just conservation but it's conservation, plus regulation, trying to regulate the bad, and that wave kind of continued to be developed and got kind of a 2.5 upgrade because of the environmental justice community who said, "Wait a minute, you're regulating but you're not regulating equally, the white polluters and white environmentalists are essentially steering poison into the people-of-color communities, because they don't have a racial justice frame." ... Now there's something new that's beginning to gather momentum, and it's conservation plus regulation of the bad, plus investment in the good ... beginning to put money into the solutions as well as trying to regulate the problem.The Green Collar Economy Jones meets with San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom at The Green Collar Economy book signing, October 14, 2008.
Jones published his first book, The Green Collar Economy, in 2008. He describes his "viable plan for solving the two biggest issues facing the country today—the economy and the environment." The book received favorable reviews from Al Gore, Nancy Pelosi, Tom Daschle, Carl Pope, and Arianna Huffington.
In the book, Jones contended that invention and investment was needed to transition from a pollution-based "grey economy" and into a healthy new "green economy". Jones wrote:
We are entering an era during which our very survival will demand invention and innovation on a scale never before seen in the history of human civilization. Only the business community has the requisite skills, experience, and capital to meet that need. On that score, neither government nor the nonprofit and voluntary sectors can compete, not even remotely.
So in the end, our success and survival as a species are largely and directly tied to the new eco-entrepreneurs—and the success and survival of their enterprises. Since almost all of the needed eco-technologies are likely to come from the private sector, civic leaders and voters should do all that can be done to help green business leaders succeed. That means, in large part, electing leaders who will pass bills to aid them. We cannot realistically proceed without a strong alliance between the best of the business world—and everyone else.
Jones had a limited publicity budget and no national media platform. But a viral, web-based marketing strategy earned the book a #12 debut on the New York Times bestseller list. Jones and Green For All used "a combination of emails and phone calls to friends, bloggers, and a network of activists" to reach millions of people. Due to the marketing campaign's grassroots nature, Jones said that achieving bestseller status was a victory for the entire green-collar jobs movement. In August 2008 Jones was featured on the grassroots radio program Sea Change Radio. The Green Collar Economy is the first environmental book written by an African-American to make the New York Times bestseller list.White House Council on Environmental Quality
In March 2009 Jones was appointed as Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at the White House Council on Environmental Quality. Jones, while an ardent supporter of President Barack Obama, had not planned on working for his administration. Jones later said, "when they asked the question, I burst out laughing because at the time it seemed completely ludicrous that it would even be an option. I think what changed my mind was interacting with the administration during the transition process and during the whole process of getting the recovery package pulled together."
Columnist Chadwick Matlin described Jones as serving as "switchboard operator for Obama's grand vision of the American economy; connecting the phone lines between all the federal agencies invested in a green economy." Jones did not like the informal "czar" term sometimes applied to his job. He described his role as "the green-jobs handyman. I'm there to serve. I'm there to help as a leader in the field of green jobs, which is a new field. I'm happy to come and serve and be helpful, but there's no such thing as a green-jobs 'czar.'"
Jones' appointment was criticized by conservative media such as WorldNetDaily and Fox News commentator Glenn Beck, who mentioned Jones on fourteen episodes of his show. They criticized Jones for his radical political activities in the 1990s, including participation in STORM and his public support for Mumia Abu-Jamal, a prisoner convicted and sentenced to death, in a highly controversial trial, for murdering a police officer.
In July 2009 Color of Change, which Jones had founded but left, launched a campaign urging advertisers on Beck's Fox News show to pull their ads, in protest of Beck's saying that President Obama had a "deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture". In September 2009, a video on YouTube was circulated of a February 2009 lecture by Jones at the Berkeley Energy and Resources Collaborative. He used strong language to refer to Congressional Republican lawmakers, and himself, when conveying that Democrats need to step up the fight. The incident made headlines and Jones apologized, saying his words "do not reflect the views of this administration, which has made every effort to work in a bipartisan fashion, and they do not reflect the experience I have had since I joined the administration."
Republicans persisted in their attack on Jones. Representative Mike Pence (R-Indiana), the chairman of the Republican Conference in the U.S. House of Representatives, and Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas), Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, publicly criticized Jones for his remarks. Senator Kit Bond (R-Missouri) urged Congress to investigate Jones' "fitness" for the position. Bob Beckel, a Fox News political analyst who was formerly an official in the Carter administration, was the first prominent Democrat to call for Jones' resignation. Jones was also criticized for allegedly having signed a 2004 petition by 911Truth.org that suggested the Bush Administration "may indeed have deliberately allowed 9/11 to happen". Jones immediately said he did not agree with the statement and had not signed the petition. While the issue was open, the allegations were grounds for more tumult: conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer said that, while other accusations against Jones were "trivial", this was "beyond partisanship". Jones issued a statement that said, "In recent days some in the news media have reported on past statements I made before I joined the administration – some of which were made years ago. If I have offended anyone with statements I made in the past, I apologize. As for the petition that was circulated today, I do not agree with this statement and it certainly does not reflect my views now or ever." (Finally, on July 27, 2010, the group 911truth.org released a statement confirming that they had "researched the situation and were unable to produce electronic or written evidence that Van agreed to sign the Statement".)
Jones resigned on September 5, 2009, saying he had been the subject of a "vicious smear campaign" by "opponents of reform " who were "using lies and distortions to distract and divide." He felt he was becoming a distraction to the administration's achieving its goals. During an interview on ABC's This Week, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs thanked Jones "for his service to the country", while noting that the president did not endorse his past comments nor support for Abu-Jamal.
Some liberal commentators expressed continued support for Jones. Arianna Huffington predicted Beck's efforts would backfire by freeing Jones to be more outspoken. John McWhorter in The New Republic criticized Obama for having Jones resign.Center for American Progress Jones speaking at Power Shift 2011, an annual youth summit, in Washington, D.C. on April 15, 2011
In February 2010, Jones became a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. He led their Green Opportunity Initiative "to develop a clearly articulated agenda for expanding investment, innovation, and opportunity through clean energy and environmental restoration".Princeton University
In 2010 Jones received appointments at Princeton University, as a distinguished visiting fellow in both the Center for African American Studies and in the Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.Rebuild The Dream
In June 2011 Jones launched an advocacy project called Rebuild The Dream. It was intended "to give the progressive mass movement that rose up to elect Barack Obama a new banner to march under." The launch included performances by The Roots and a DJ set by artist Shepard Fairey. In August 2012 Prince announced a series of concerts in Chicago to support Rebuild the Dream. Prince went on The View with Jones and Rosario Dawson to promote the concerts.
In April 2012 Jones published his second book, titled Rebuild the Dream. It debuted at number 16 on the New York Times Best Seller list.CNN
In June 2013 Jones was announced as a co-host of a re-boot of the CNN political debate show Crossfire, alongside Newt Gingrich, Stephanie Cutter and S.E. Cupp. In October 2014 the show was canceled.
Jones continued after the end of Crossfire as a regular CNN contributor. He has contributed to segments on a wide range of topics, including Obama administration policies, Supreme Court decisions, protests in Ferguson, Missouri after the fatal shooting by police of an unarmed young black man, and the 2016 Republican presidential primary. After the November 2016 election victory by Republican Donald Trump, Jones described the result as a "whitelash": his term for a racist backlash by white Americans who had opposed President Obama.
In 2016 Jones launched "The Messy Truth," a news feature documentary series and subsequent studio discussion series, The Messy Truth with Van Jones, which aired in 2017 on CNN. In 2018 Jones launched "The Van Jones Show" on CNN, with Jay-Z as his first guest.The Dream Corps
Jones is President of The Dream Corps, a "social enterprise and incubator for powerful ideas and innovations designed to uplift and empower the most vulnerable in our society." The Dream Corps owns and operates several advocacy projects, including Green for All, #cut50, and #YesWeCode.
In early 2015 Jones launched #YesWeCode, an initiative aiming to "teach 100,000 low-income kids to write code". The musician Prince appeared at the Essence Festival to help support the launch. Jones credits Prince with the idea to form #YesWeCode. #YesWeCode has hosted several hackathons, including one in Detroit in partnership with MSNBC, and Oakland. In an interview on CNN on April 21, 2016, hours after the musician Prince's death, Jones revealed that Prince had secretly contributed to the funding of #YesWeCode.
In 2015 Jones launched #cut50, an organization focused on bi-partisan solutions to criminal justice reform issues. In March 2015 #cut50 hosted a "bi-partisan summit" with Republican Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House, to promote bi-partisan solutions. Their goals are to reduce prison populations, as the US has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, and to end mandatory minimum sentencing and mandatory lengthy sentences for certain crimes.
In November 2015 #cut50 gained the support of singer Alicia Keys. In 2016 Keys made a video appeal to Congressman Paul Ryan asking him to "be her Valentine" and commit to giving legislation on criminal justice reform a vote. Ryan made this commitment days later. #cut50 received additional celebrity support from "100 A-List celebrities" including Amy Schumer, Steph Curry, Ed Norton, Jesse Williams, Chris Pine, Russell Simmons, Shonda Rhimes, Russel Brand, Jessica Chastain, and Piper Kerman.
In May 2018 Jones and other members of #cut50 met with Jared Kushner and President Donald Trump at the White House to discuss a criminal justice reform bill.Friendship with Prince
Jones was a longtime friend of the musician Prince. Prince publicly supported several of Jones' advocacy projects. After Prince's death, Jones revealed that the musician had been a major philanthropist who preferred to give anonymously to a wide spectrum of charitable causes. Prince used Jones and others as surrogates to distribute his gifts. As a Jehovah's Witness, Prince did not want to receive public credit for his charitable work. Jones was among the 20 people who gathered for a private memorial service at Paisley Park after Prince's death.Other projects
During the 2003 California gubernatorial recall election, Jones served as Arianna Huffington's statewide grassroots director.
On October 2, 2010, Jones spoke at the One Nation Working Together rally in Washington, DC. He addressed linking the fight against poverty with the fight against pollution, saying that green jobs would bring "real solutions" instead of "hateful rhetoric".
On April 15, 2011, Jones spoke at Powershift 2011 in Washington, DC, addressing more than 10,000 students on issues of climate justice and standing up for underrepresented communities. Powershift 2011 was the largest youth activism and organizing training in U.S. history.
In 2011, Jones worked with MoveOn.org to launch the Rebuild the Dream campaign, which was intended to start a progressive American Dream movement to counter the Tea Party movement. Following a kickoff on June 23, 2011, Rebuild the Dream announced a "Contract for the American Dream", intended as a counter to the Tea Party-supported "Contract from America", and held house meetings in July. Jones claimed 127,000 people had become involved in the movement by the end of July 2011.
At the beginning of October 2011, prior to a Rebuild the Dream conference in Washington, DC, Jones compared the Occupy Wall Street movement to an "American Autumn" comparable to the Arab Spring uprisings, saying, "You can see it right now with these young people on Wall Street. Hold onto your hats, we're going to have an October offensive to take back the American dream and to rescue America's middle class."
At a speech in San Francisco in February 2012, Jones spoke out on behalf of underwater home owners, saying, "They call it class warfare ... if anything, it's warfare against people who have no class ... they won't even return our phone calls when our houses are underwater."
Jones founded Advocates for Opioid Recovery together with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Rep. Patrick J. Kennedy.Boards
Jones has served on the boards of numerous environmental and nonprofit organizations, including Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), 1Sky, the National Apollo Alliance, Social Venture Network, Rainforest Action Network, Bioneers, Julia Butterfly Hill's "Circle of Life" organization and Free Press. He currently serves on the board of trustees at Demos. He also served as a Senior Fellow with the Center for American Progress and a Fellow at the Institute of Noetic Sciences. He was a keynote speaker at the youth conference Power Shift 2009 and 2011 in Washington, D.C.Awards and honors
Jones' awards and honors include:
Jones, Van (July 24, 2010). "Shirley Sherrod and Me". New York Times.See also